Last fall, I learned I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
It took some time to process. I was relieved to have an answer that explained some of my struggles, but I also felt that something was “wrong” with me. Eventually, I accepted it and moved forward comfortable with who I was and with a renewed sense of curiosity about how my brain worked.
It turns out that, while I do have real deficits, many of the things I struggle with are very relatable. The constant barrage of notifications at work derails my efforts to focus for extended periods of time, I have difficulty initiating overwhelming tasks, I struggle to maintain attention when I am not interested in a topic and I experience a mid-afternoon slump that has me hurrying to Jittery Joe’s for a shot-in-the-dark.
We all strive to be more focused and productive professionals. So, whether you have ADHD or not, I hope you’ll give one of these focus tools a shot.
Block your time
Time blocking has revolutionized the way I organize my day and set expectations for myself.
Using Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner, I begin each day by assigning every hour of my day a task, project or meeting. This means that—at any given point—I know exactly what I should be working on. It’s a sobering exercise that winnows my daily to-do list from 20 aspirations to 4-5 realistic goals. Because of this, unrealistic expectations don’t make me feel like a failure at 5 p.m. Instead, I feel motivated to stay on track to achieve what I know is doable.
If a non-urgent task or reminder arises, there’s room in my planner for me to record that thought quickly and continue working on my assigned task.
Pro tip: If your work allows it, turn on Do Not Disturb. Otherwise, notifications will disrupt your focus. Too many people spend their entire workdays in reactive mode—feeling pressure to be super responsive but not making much progress on what’s important to them. Instead, I dedicate three 30-minute blocks a day to communications, when I respond to email, Slack, Teams and Asana.
Track your time
I use a paid version of RescueTime to track what I am doing on my computer at any given moment. You can categorize websites and applications as productive, distracting or neutral. The software keeps a running score that shows how productive I am each day. If I spend too much time distracting myself, RescueTime will let me know. It also gives me a ton of data to see what takes up most of my time (looking at you, Zoom). I can identify trends and make changes to continue increasing my productivity score.
If I need to knock out a writing task or project plan, there’s a feature called FocusTime which blocks all distracting websites, applications and notifications for an interval of time you choose.
Pro tip: There is a 14-day free trial available for RescueTime. And there are plenty of other time-tracking software options, too.
Expose your time
Have you ever been working at a coffee shop and realized how much more productive you are than at the office? Well, you are tapping into something called body doubling.
Body doubling is a focus strategy that involves working in close proximity to another person. I have found that, when everyone else at the coffee shop looks to be hard at work on their computers, I am more motivated to be productive as well. It also helps that anyone who walks behind me can see my screen—they’ll know if I am goofing off or working!
Pro tip: The coffee helps, too.
Nearly 5% of adults in the U.S. live with ADHD so I’d bet there’s at least a dozen of us in DAR. To my colleagues living with ADHD: you’re not alone and you’re doing great!